Barrio de Otxarkoaga

Otxarkoaga Auzoa

Otxarkoaga neighborhood

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In November 1958, a decree of the Ministry of Housing granted 4,000 apartments to the township of Bilbao in order to resolve the problems of clandestine buildings – 40,000 shanty-town dwellers ­– and subletting – 100,000 subtenants. 

But it did not come into effect until 27 May 1959, when the Social Urgency Plan of Biscay was decreed. This plan for the construction of 50,000 apartments in five years included the project of the Otxarkoaga estate.

The Biscay Delegation of the COAVN (Official Basque-Navarre College of Architects) provided twelve young architects for the project: Pedro and Javier Ispizua, Domingo Martín Enciso, Rufino Basañez, Julián Larrea, Esteban Argarate, Antonino Zalvide, Martín de la Torre, Javier Aristegui, José Antonio Cirion, Luis Saloña and the veteran Juan Madariaga. They were joined by two architects from the Housing Ministry, Luis Gana and Javier Sada de Quinto.

The heads of the Housing Ministry chose the site in Otxarkoaga (Begoña) due to its physical location next to the new access road to Bilbao via Begoña, the increasing industrialization of the neighboring valleys of Etxebarri, Galdakao and Basauri, and because it was a sunny, smoke free zone, with green vegetation in a tranquil landscape. The authorities also highlighted its character as a garden town. It was developed with a minimum of earthworks, facing in a southeasterly direction, with a broad lineal layout, leaving space free for complementary buildings, with a maximum exposure to sunlight and the provision of garden spaces to give it an agreeable effect.

The project was designed to include 3,672 subsidized apartments for 18,600 inhabitants. It was composed in 4 residential nuclei, each with 4,800 inhabitants, together with a main nucleus, where offices, a shopping center, a theater hall and a church were located. The design for the set of complementary buildings included 3 shopping centers, 3 schools, two churches and even several nurseries.

The 114 apartment blocks, including 8 high-rise buildings, were arranged lineally, following the topography of the terrain. The Civic Center was on the main street from which the rest of the roads departed. The pronounced unevenness of the terrain resulted in a staggered layout, with holding walls and access stairways. Three premises were followed in the planning: adaptation to the terrain, orientation and maximum space between buildings. The typology of the buildings responded to the terrain and the directives of the National Housing Institute (INV), which laid down the number of square meters and even how the apartments should be distributed. There was a predominance of apartments with three bedrooms, a bathroom and a combined kitchen, sitting-room and dining-room, corresponding to an average family of 5 or 6 members. The facades were of facing brick, without recesses or projecting elements. 

There was an innovation in construction, consisting in the experimental use of a system of heavy prefabrication, the Fiorio system, which was patented in France. Had it been successful, this system would have been used systematically in the construction of housing and complementary buildings in the plan envisaged by the INV for building several residential estates throughout Greater Bilbao. Nonetheless, two antagonistic positions came into conflict: industrialization and artisanal systems. 

Work on the estate was divided amongst several groups of architects and in this way problems were reduced, the project was made more economical and was completed more quickly, in keeping with the premises of the Housing Ministry. 

Otxarkoaga provided Bilbao with a new lexicon and way of understanding urban planning, with development that consisted in housing estates, that is, thousands of apartments on the exterior of the urban layout, with an austere typology, open distribution and high-rise buildings. This served as a laboratory for constructive experiences with the use of prefabricated systems of construction or the employment of innovative materials. Otxarkoaga was the first residential estate built in Bilbao; it was also the last great public initiative undertaken in the city (together with Otxarkoaga, the Social Urgency Plan also included Uretamendi, constructed by the Jesuits to solve the problem of shanty-towns on Arraiz Hill, and Castrejana, which arose from a private initiative to solve the housing shortage for subtenants). Two further estates would later be built in the Begoña area, the Begoña Extension and Txurdinaga.

Luis Bilbao


    BILBAO LARRONDO, L. El Poblado Dirigido de Otxarkoaga: del Plan de Urgencia Social de Bizkaia al primer Plan de Desarrollo Económico y Social. La vivienda en Bilbao 1959-1964. Bilbao: Ayuntamiento de Bilbao, 2008;  SANTAS, A. Urbanismo y vivienda en Bilbao 1939-1959. Bilbao: COAVN Bizkaia, 2008; MARTINEZ CALLEJO, J. Bilbao: desarrollos urbanos 1960-2000 Ciudad y Forma. Vitoria-Gasteiz: Servicio de Publicaciones del Gobierno Vasco, 2009.